MICHAEL THOMPSON

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Better Living

The 4 Rules for Leading An Impactful Life

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“What in the world are you reading? The 4-Hour-Workweek? Really? You’d be a lot better off if you gave Tim Ferriss a break and picked up a book from Tom Peters instead.”

My dad said the words above to me over a decade ago right before I packed up my bags and moved to Barcelona. Like most of his advice at that point in my life, I let his words go straight in one ear and right out the other.

A few years later, however, my dad forwarded me a video from Tom Peters about how to conduct yourself during a recession.

Maybe it was a mental lapse. Or maybe it was because I was homesick and I wanted something to have something to talk about with my dad. But for whatever reason, I clicked play and within seconds I was hooked.

Since watching that video a decade ago, I’ve devoured everything Tom’s written at least twice. This includes an interview he gave to none other than the author of “The 4-Hour-Workweek,” Tim Ferriss, regarding his best pieces of life advice.

If you aren’t familiar with the work of the legendary management consultant and author of best-sellers like “In Search of Excellence,” below are 4 of his rules for making an impact to wet your beak.

1. Be the person with the smallest vision in the room

“They say think big, have a compelling vision. I say think small and do something super cool by the end of the day. Most people see excellence as some grand aspiration. Wrong. Dead wrong. Excellence is the next five minutes or nothing at all. It’s the quality of your next five-minute conversation. It’s the quality of your next email. Forget the long-term. Make the next five minutes rock!” — Tom Peters

Everywhere we turn we are told that before we can make an impact in the world we have to discover our passion or purpose for being. To make matters worse, every post on social media seems to be someone implying they are living “their best lives!”

Steal a line from Tom and don’t worry so much about finding your passion or kick yourself because you don’t know how you’re going to leave a lasting mark on the world.

Start smart by starting small and make a commitment to bring energy and a positive attitude to everything you do.

Write the best sentence you can in the next five minutes.

Exercise as hard as you can for the next five minutes.

Give people your full presence for the next five minutes.

Much of life is out of your control. What you can control is the level of commitment and care you put into your work and the people directly in front of you.

2. Be the best listener in the room

“Become a superstar All-pro listener! How? Work on it. It does not come naturally. Read up on it. Practice it. Have a mentor grade you on it.”

Well over one billion people have gone to Mr. Google and typed in the words, “How to make a Big Mac.” Another half a billion people have entered the words, “Ways to improve your speaking skills.” Yet if you were to do a search for “Ways to improve your listening skills,” the numbers would quickly shrink down to one hundred million results.

Some people say the best way to be successful is to watch what everyone else is doing and then do the opposite. The fastest way to accomplish this today is by being someone who would rather learn how to listen than research ways on how to not spend $4 on a burger.

You will never be valuable until you understand what the people around you truly value. As Tom implied, this sounds easy, but becoming an attentive listener is hard work.

Start by simply doing a Google search and follow it until you find a few good book recommendations on the subject. My personal favorite is “Verbal Judo.” Like a lot of other books on listening, it is full of actionable advice that all of us can choose to do. Author George J. Thompson, however, takes it one step further by providing us with ways to diffuse hot situations by prioritizing our two ears over our one mouth.

In addition to the basics like dropping your agenda, repeating back what you heard, keeping track of your “talk / listen” ratios, and keeping your damn phone out of sight, here are three lightweight questions a mentor shared with me regarding how to effectively engage your ears during your daily conversations —

  • What am I going to be curious about today?
  • How many things am I going to be wrong about today?
  • What can I help people achieve today?

The logic behind these questions is simple: if you go into each conversation eager to learn something or open to helping someone, the odds of having a valuable interaction increase exponentially.

3. Be the most intellectually curious person in the room

“Read, read, read. read. In short, the best student wins. Whether at age 21, 51, or 101.”

Your job — your only job — is to learn. When you aren’t listening to the people around you, be the type of person who chooses to pick up a book.

Like most things, to get the most out of reading, remember that diversification is key.

  • Gobble up biographies in order to better learn how to navigate life challenges and to learn that nothing worth having ever comes cheap.
  • Read self-help to stay motivated or improve certain skills and relationship books to learn how to play well with others.
  • Dive into fiction to push your creative muscle and to be reminded just how damn amazing and talented the people around you are.

When speaking to younger people about what it takes to be successful it is not a coincidence that reading tops most lists.

The most interesting lives are lived by those who take the time to learn about the experiences of others.

4. Be the kindest person in the room

“I assume you are smart and I assume you work hard, but being civil, and decent, and kind is the bedrock of career success as well as personal fulfillment. And anyone who tells you that this is a soft idea, send them to me and I’ll give them a hard punch in the nose.”

Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked in seven sectors across three continents. One of the most glaring patterns to come to light during this time is that kindness, as Tom implied, is the key differentiator between a good career and a great one.

The major reason for this is people will always choose to spend time with and do business with people they like over those who they are on the fence about.

The beauty of building a reputation of someone who is kind is that it’s not even that difficult.

  • Smile and say hello to each person you walk by regardless of age or title.
  • Ask people about their families and write down the names of the people who are important to them.
  • Become a master of the follow-up and check in on people to see how they’re coming along in both their professional and personal lives.
  • Never keep either your gratitude or compliments to yourself.
  • Proactively connect people who may benefit from getting to know each other.
  • Most importantly, see point number 2 in this article and take the hard steps to become a good listener.

And when in doubt, keep track of the behaviors you see in others that turn people off and make a commitment to not make the same mistakes yourself.

After all, not being a jerk doesn’t automatically make you kind, but it’s a good start.

Pulling it all together

What I like most about Tom’s advice is every single recommendation is achievable. If you make the decision to focus on being a good person and give everything you can to the work or people in front of you over time you’ll begin to make an impact.

Focus on what’s directly in front of you.

Listen to people.

Choose books.

Be Kind.

Oh, and one last piece of advice from Tom: when you’re feeling frustrated, get up and go for a walk. It works.